Domesticated dogs have evolved to see humans as part of their packs, according to Suffolk University Biology Professor Lauren Nolfo-Clements. That special relationship is central to the new film “Alpha,” which depicts the transformation that occurs when a lost boy pairs with a lone wolf.
Nolfo-Clements teaches first year students about the origins of domesticated dogs and humans’ role in shaping species development in her popular course Fido the Friendly Wolf: A Natural History of Dogs. During the semester, students observe wolves in a wildlife sanctuary to learn about natural characteristics that have been altered over time to create pet dogs.
“I want my students to get first-hand experience with wolves because even though wolves share many physical characteristics and natural behaviors with dogs, in dogs those behaviors have been modified to get along better with humans,” says Nolfo-Clements. “Things like pack behaviors have been changed in domesticated dogs to allow humans into their daily lives.”
Nolfo-Clements notes the many ways canines have been modified over the centuries to better adapt to human society – from taking on herding, guarding, and hunting duties as working dogs; to selective breeding for more human-friendly personality and physical traits.
“Not only do humans have an impact on the environment, we actually have a major impact on a number of animals. In the case of dogs, the very evolutionary trajectory of their species was altered by the presence of humans. To see how the wolf was transformed into something like a pug is really informative.”